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How to protect your privacy while surfing the Web from your mobile device

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by Staff Writer

Hand touching privacy app on screen

This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.

From the cumbersome boxy phones of the 1980s to the sleek flip phones of the 1990s, and now to the Internet-enabled smartphones of the 2000s, cell phone technology has evolved rapidly in a very short time. Indeed, it seems somewhat anachronistic even to refer to a smartphone as a phone at all.

More accurately, devices like the iPhone are miniature computers, with full hard drives, loads of memory, and the ability to surf the Web and play dozens of games at the touch of a button. Given their wide-ranging functions, it’s no wonder then that in a January 2010 report, Gartner, Inc. predicted that by 2013, “Mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide.”

But is using your mobile device for email, social networking, calendar planning, and more, safe? What kinds of risks are you taking when you use your mobile phone in place of your computer?

This article will offer advice on how to protect your privacy while surfing the Web from your mobile device.

Lock your phone when it’s not in use

If you have a Web-enabled smartphone, there’s a good chance you have one-click access to your email, Facebook account, and any number of other personal services. That’s why it’s important to use your phone’s lock mechanism when you’re not using it.

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Cell phone locks range in complexity depending on the make and model of phone you’re using, but many include some kind of numerical code or bio identifier. You may think it’s annoying to have to punch in your code or scan your thumbprint every time you want to make a call, but consider the alternative. If your phone is lost or stolen and you don’t have a lock in place, then someone could pick it up and immediately gain access to all your personal information.

Surf smart and avoid spammy apps

When you’re surfing the Web from your mobile phone, use the same common sense you would use if you were on your home computer. Don’t visit websites that are likely to have viruses and malware, and make sure to avoid clicking on any suspicious-looking links in your social media accounts.

Another area of concern for smartphone users is malicious applications. Most smartphones are tied to an online store for purchasing games, productivity tools, and other applications. If you’re considering purchasing or downloading a new app, do your due diligence, and check it out. Also, always ask yourself if the value of the app is worth the possible risk. Asking this question will help keep you from downloading dangerous apps out of pure boredom.

Common sense is absolutely necessary in learning how to protect your privacy while surfing the Web from your mobile device.

Use location-based apps carefully

Location-based services found in apps such as Foursquare, Instagram, and Facebook have quickly become some of the most popular services in the social media sphere. These services allow users to check in or share their locations via their mobile phone.

These geo-tagging tools offer a unique way to meet up with friends and an even more unique marketing opportunity for small businesses. However, there are some safety considerations. Every time users check in to a location publicly, they’re telling the world exactly where they are and, conversely, exactly where they’re not. Law enforcement officials warn that location sharing could lead to home burglary if you tell the world that you’re away from your house for the night. The issue of cyberstalking is also a concern, particularly if children or teens are involved.

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Just as with downloading apps, using geo-location services means using common sense. You must always weigh the value of sharing against the risk of giving up some of your privacy. Keep this in mind when you are learning how to protect your privacy while surfing the Web from your mobile device.

Think twice about sharing photos

Besides the ability to make calls, most modern mobile devices also have impressive photo and video capabilities. When you consider the fact that most phones today also have the ability to surf the Internet, it becomes very easy to see how a snapshot can go from the phone to the World Wide Web in a matter of seconds.

Snapping and sharing photos from your phone is a cool way to keep your friends and family connected with what you’re doing. It’s also an amazing way to share breaking news, such as when someone snapped a picture of the jet that crash landed in New York’s Hudson Bay in 2009. Before sharing any photos from your phone, however, you should think twice about who might see the images.

If you’re posting the images on Twitter or Facebook and you haven’t locked down your privacy settings, then you run the risk of exposing the photos to the whole world. Additionally, if you’re moving quickly and not paying attention, you might share the wrong photo from your phone, revealing something that was meant to be private.

When it comes to protecting your privacy on mobile devices, remember to use good sense and to think first before sharing anything online. Your online reputation isn’t static; it’s dynamic. As mobile devices become ever more powerful, always remember that what you do on your phone is tied to your personal and professional identity. Using these tips you can effectively learn how to protect your privacy while surfing the Web from your mobile device.

Rob Frappier is Community Manager for ReputationDefender.